"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Sunday, August 24, 2008


It's possible that I'm a blog-aholic. I have a blog on my website (www.gaylecarline.com/geeblog.html) to discuss my very first book deal and how it came about. I have a blog on MySpace (www.myspace.com/gaylesoo) to discuss random events in my personal and professional life. So why do I need yet a third?

To discuss the process of writing. My blog title comes from James Thurber's Preface to a Life (My Life and Hard Times), where he talks about how everyone thinks of writers, particularly humor writers, as being light-hearted souls with nary a worry. According to him, they "sit on the edge of the chair of Literature."

That description suits me to a T. I have read many of the great literary works and admire them. In my heart of hearts, I would love to write one of those tomes, and be remembered for all eternity as the author of the "21st century War and Peace" or some such title.

But fear holds me back. What if my efforts to be inspiring are seen as insipid? What if I attempt deep symbolism and I'm accused of presumption? Worse yet, what if I do write this mighty work of art and I start taking myself too seriously?

Which is probably why I started my delayed writing career as a columnist. It's hard to be precious at 1,000 words. My first gig was to report on horse shows, and interview horse people, which left no room for fiction, and no way to get too big for my britches. When I started writing for the Placentia News-Times, I was writing humor essays about my daily life, a la Erma Bombeck and James Thurber. Although I wouldn't call my tales fiction (they do contain moments of exaggeration), the essays had to be light and short (500 words), so I could not go Tolstoy on anyone.

But I always wanted to write a novel. In 2006, I started writing one. It was a literary masterpiece that took me over a year to write, about a young girl's struggle to define herself. Well, that's what I intended it to be. What I ended up with was a well-written piece of crap. Part of it was because I broke many of the rules that make a novel readable. The thing about successful authors who break the rules is, they know the rules well, so they know how to break them. I didn't. The other part of the problem was that I was in a writing group of two: me and my friend, Pam. I adore her, we make each other laugh, but a writing group of two is a mistake. Pam loves romances. I don't. And yet, by the time we had finished critiquing my work, I found I had written a romance.

Enter the Southern California Writer's Conferences. I had been attending these since 2006 and had been dutifully listening to all of the experts, without doing a thing they said. After my literary-romance-fiasco, I finally started paying attention. In 2007, I was able to start my second book, a murder mystery, with all of the tools I needed to make a good, light-hearted novel. Which I did. And that was the book I sold.

So I still sit at the edge of that chair, wanting to rest my back against it and write Literature with a capital "L", but I have made piece with the fact that I'd rather write light and lively works than not write at all.

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